All posts by Dekada Villa

VILLA – INOP HAN KAMORAYAW

by Cesar Torres

Many years ago, I once wrote: “Everyone needs a hometown whether to love or to hate”. Now after being away from Villa, this line seems to be constantly reverberating over and over again. Sometimes I feel that it has been transformed – it is now coursing through my veins. At times it becomes a soft, caressing, and teasing breeze, whispering at the edge of my consciousness: “To love or to hate, to love or to hate, to love or to hate…” For indeed, there is never a moment when I do not think of Villa, when I do not daydream of Villa.

Every now and then, the contours of the beloved town would leap into my mind – of Mangarit, of Tayud, of Hawod, of Rawis, of Quindot and Puro or of the outlying places I have been to – Lam-awan, Inasudlan, Himyangan, Guintarcan, Bangkil, Plaridel, Sta. Rosa, Inarumbacan, San Andres, San Roque, Igot, Buaya and Sabang. I recall faces of friends and acquaintances of years back, some of them are no longer with us, while we shared our hopes and desires or were engaged in a fiery debate that somehow always ended up in chorus of laughter or a crescendo of harmonious and beautifully blending voices wafting into the blue skies or rising to the heavens on a starry night accompanied by the strumming of a guitar.

I would remember the magical beauty of Villa especially on moonlight nights in May when the sea is akin to a shimmering glass and the silhouettes of Lamingao, Mahayag, Pangpang, Rawis, Pacao and the surrounding areas of Maqueda Bay are bathed in the soft rays of a full moon and the sea is alive with the darting and jumping diamond images of its denizens. I would hear the pealing of the church bells summoning the faithful to a day of worship or the praying of the Angelus and at the same time signaling the children to end their play for the day and run home to the waiting and loving arms of their mothers and fathers accompanied by a gentle chiding. I would recall the gentle breeze of December nights at Christmastime when the young carolers would gleefully fleet from one house to another hoping for a “Pamasko”; or when the night is late, of the huddle of men and women whose voices would break the stillness of the night singing the haunting “Panarit” and startling the dogs who would erupt into a barking chorus of their own.

In our youthful days when the sun was about to set, we would watch thousands upon thousands of birds flying across the skies of Villa to roost for the night in Puró and the adjacent islands. They came from the virgin tropical forest of Villa and Samar when they were havens and sanctuaries of a teeming wildlife.

The sea was a veritable fountain of plenty. Fish, shellfish, “bahong”, and other edible products of the sea were abundant. I can remember the time when the Omnipotent must have favored us with His special grace. There was so much crabs that the when the moon was shinning, they would rise to the surface of the sea to be scooped and netted by Villahanons. There were days and months when hundreds of “bangrus” would be sold in the Mercado, when “sarad” was so cheap and plentiful that you could have a “sumsuman” by just asking. In the midst of this simplicity and contentment, expectations would heighten during the month of August. The fattened pig would be eyed more frequently these days. New shoes, dresses and shirts would be cajoled from reluctant parents. Korioso, decana, torta and all sorts of goodies are being prepared in anticipation of the advent of the town’s annual homage to its Patroness, Sta. Rosa de Lima .

I long for the lilting and haunting tunes of the “Diana” played by old friends composing the remnants of the once-famous “La Playa” orchestra while parading at daybreak around the town to herald the dawning of the “Kaadlawan” of the fiesta. No matter how befuddled our minds may be – after all the previous night was the “Bispera” and was spent in merrymaking in the company of friends, relatives and guests – we never fail to awaken from our brief sleep on the joyous strains of the “Diana” which creeps into our semi-conscious minds.

Flung by destiny into distant shores, I am now in a place across the Pacific Ocean. In Los Angeles and San Francisco, Fate would occasionally provide me with the singular privilege of standing in front of a podium to present or acknowledge the presence of delegates representing various towns of Samar and other places in the Philippines. When the Villahanon delegation is presented, I would invariably go into an inspired narration of the only town in the Philippines with two names, one the formal of “Villareal” and the other, a nickname, the more tender, and more endearing of “Villa… Perlas han Maqueda”, of the town in Samar which had produced the most numbers of priests, including Msgr. Lesmes Ricalde, Auxiliary Bishop of the Diocese of Palo, or the world famous martyr to the cause of the downtrodden and the oppressed and of Christendom itself, Fr. Rudy Romano.

As a percentage of total town population, Villa’s number of college graduates at one time was the highest in the entire province of Samar. The town has given birth to top ranking administrators in the national, regional and provincial governments. Its passion for education has developed a pool of competent educators untainted by corruption. Long before other towns in Samar and the Philippines had thought of non-governmental organizations, Villa had already the Omawas Foundation organized in the service of the less fortunate Villahanons. Two of its pillars, Jose and Nitnit Dalwatan, gave their lives in the pursuit of its vision.

Moreover, Villa, again at one time, may have been the only town in the entire island of Samar with a newsletter, “Budyong han Villa”, its untimely demise notwithstanding. Its civic and religious organizations have involved themselves in town projects, in cleaning its seashores – probably the first in the history of the entire island of Samar, admirably undertaken by a disappearing group, calling themselves “The Potentials” – in the establishment of a Museum, in the erection of a “Stairway to Heaven” of the Knights of Columbus and in the beautification of the church surroundings, a project of the Daughters of Mary Immaculate. In Metro Manila, a group of forward-looking Villahanons have banded together to flesh out the resounding and mournful call of Pope Paul VI to help the poorest of the poor, a call which was transmitted to Christendom in his earth-shaking encyclical, “Populorum Progressio”. The town’s literary tradition has produced some local writers and well known dramatists. The burning issues of Philippine society and the imperatives of economic and social justice have given birth to Villa’s fearless idealists who have consecrated their lives for the liberation of the poor from conditions of extreme poverty and exploitation.

And in places far from its shores, its sons, and daughters are recognized leaders in Filipino communities in North America and Europe.

“To love or to hate” … This is the moral dilemma of mankind, the tension pulling man in opposite directions. It symbolizes the dualism immanent in the universe, of pride and humility, of graciousness and vanity, of purity and corruption, of beauty and ugliness, of forgiveness and unyielding hatred.

The pearly luster of Villa is sometimes dimmed by the dirty stains of discord oozing out from the corrupted morality of extreme self-righteousness. With greater humility, understanding and compassion – in the tradition of the Sta. Rosa – Villa can become more vibrant and a model community. Giving our best and cooperating with others in civic endeavors will not diminish the greatness and nobility of our delusions. Rather, it can enhance our self-esteem and moral stature. A sense of history, compassion for the less fortunate, a concern for the welfare of future generations, and an understanding that our lives are finite, that devoting our waking hours to a flaming hatred of others is psychotic — these and others more should constitute the irreducible minimum qualities of those aspiring for community leadership.

We realize that our humanity is fraught with the intrinsic pitfalls of our weaknesses. But this should not paralyze us to inaction. In the words of Desiderata:

“As far as possible, without surrender,

be on good terms with all persons.

Speak your truth quietly and clearly;

and listen to others,

even to the dull and the ignorant;

they too have their story.

… [T]he world is full of trickery.

But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;

many persons strive for high ideals,

and everywhere life is full of heroism.”

We have to cast away our despair for Villa and our sense of helplessness. Fear and apathy exemplified by the constant refrain of “Waray kita mahihimo”, “What can we do?” should not rule our lives. We have to hope. We have to act without malice, without calculating the benefit that we can derive from our initiative. Otherwise, the alternative is horrifying for our succeeding generations.

After all, to quote the Ecclesiastes:

“There is a reason for every season under

the heavens,

A time to be born, and a time to die.

A time to weep, and a time to laugh,

A time to love, and a time to hate,

A time of war, and a time of peace.”

These immortal lines are as timeless as the stars. Harkening to them can make Villa scintillate like the Northern Star making it the beaconlight for other towns and communities. Inspired by the Sta. Rosa, as in days of yore, we can vanquish the phantoms and goblins of greed, malice, and incompetence, of pride arising from insecurity and our stone-cold hearts. Then we can shout with greater fervor:

“Maupay nga Patron ha aton ngatanan!”

But I hear a mournful crying in the wind…

PRIDE, SADNESS, AND HOPES OF A SAMARNON IN CALIFORNIA

by Cesar Torres (March 26, 2004)

For a true and concerned Samarnon and a proud Filipino, to be at ease wherever one maybe is beyond our wildest imagination. For those who are a little more discerning and reflective, we will never be free of Samar.  We will never be free of the Philippines except perhaps, beyond the grave.

Our sojourn in the Golden State of California is a testament to our unceasing restlessness.  In our waking moments, there is a never-ending parade of images and emotions on Samar where the past and the present are one.  But the future seems bleak, enshrouded by dark and gloomy clouds of uncertainty.

Every now and then, our thoughts wander into the hills, valleys, and plains of the Samar mainland and the islands, the bays, and coves and the blue waters off Maqueda Bay.  We remember the azure skies, the white-capped and angry waves smashing on the seashores during the Habagat monsoon season, the soothing and warm raindrops falling on our skins, the houses teetering on the seashores lapped by the waves.

We remember the fresh and exotic shellfish and the harvests from the Maqueda Bay, food for the palate which are not available to most of us in California because the prices would be prohibitive.

Despite the massive destruction of its rainforest, we are still amazed at the lush greenery in the mountains and the hills, the swaying fronds of the coconut trees, and the promise of more food for the Samarnons if we can maximize the utilization of our land.

I remember keeping my silence, adjusting and swaying my body to the constant shaking of our car when traversing the terrible roads from Tacloban to Catbalogan and vice versa (at least when I was there in August-September 2003 last year), the blown tire of the passenger vehicle we were riding with cousins from Calbiga along the “Death Road” connecting the Pan-Philippine Highway to Villa, my 24-hour worry that Lydia and her cousins have been ambushed or had met with an accident or were held up by drug-crazed minions of the Lost Command while coming back from Tacloban to Calbiga when it turned out that the car they were riding had only conked out because of the road  thus giving them the opportunity to renew family ties with their aunt in Guinkasang-an and to stay the night in a community which could be labeled a “liberated area”.

From Villa, we rode the motorboat to Catbalogan early in the morning in the company of some professionals and teachers, the leadership of the town, students, and ordinary citizens.  The boat ride was gratifying and the conversation — despite the noise of the motorboat engine — was enlightening.  Viewed from the sea, the islands seemed so green, and the distant shores so calm. With a jolt we recalled that in Metro Manila we passed by sordid and squalid areas which my brother pointed out to me as communities inhabited mostly by Samarnons, some of whom were originally from Villa and Catbalogan.  And we wondered why they would continue to live in Metro Manila as squatters or as garbage scavengers in Payatas when Samar was so beautiful, so inviting and full of promise, from the distance anyway. Why? Oh why?

Despite our absence of eight years from Catbalogan, we were not expecting any dramatic changes in the town.  But we were still hopeful that under the leadership of Jesse Redaja, in whom we had high hopes when he presented himself as a leader of Samar’s capital town almost a decade ago, Catbalogan should be able to show some improvements.  When we had anchored, the wharf was a beehive of people, and tricycles, and motorboats.  But someone forgot to collect the trash and the garbage on the side of the pantalan, the same situation as in Villa.

As to our hopes for some changes in Catbalogan, sure enough, there was an imposing white structure on the side of a hill and a lovely house protruding to the seashore.  We saw a tower.  We were told that this was used for telecommunication. In the area of Information Technology, BBCS Data Systems, an Internet Service Provider, had state-of-the-art computers. It was bursting at the seams with high school students.

The streets of Samar’s capital town were congested. A canal where we used to swim during high tide was littered with trash and garbage. Many shanties were perched precariously on the side of the hills.  But despite the occasional frown and far away looks of the people and the students who came from all over the island, we could read on their faces their determination to strive, to persevere, and to surmount the challenges and difficulties confronting them.

We marvel at the graciousness of the Samarnons (including the Branch Managers of the Metro Bank in Tacloban and Catbalogan and the chief of the Security Unit in the Tacloban airport), the passion, the commitment, and the concern of some leaders — in Samar, in Catbalogan, in Villareal, and Calbiga — who unfortunately were not in positions of power and authority.  We were convinced of the esteem and the high regard accorded to us by the educators and mentors in our hometown, and the loyalty and the unabashed nostalgia of bosom friends.

In the midst of all these competing images, the image of the wan and mournful smile of my five-year old nephew, who is dying of leukemia in Silanga and whose parents will not have enough money to buy drugs that will ease his pain while on his way to the Great Beyond, continues to haunt me. I do not know what to think.

I cannot articulate our despair and hopelessness at the incredible expectations of us by our cousins and relatives; my silence and the idiotic smile on my face because of my inability to say anything to cousins informing me that an attractive niece had become a  Japayuki (“Kapit sa patalim…”, rough translation: “Grip the edge of a razor blade to survive…”, as her widowed mother who cared for my children in the UP sheepishly admitted to me).  From statistical data available to us, we knew that poverty in Samar and the Philippines is so endemic.  But it was still mind-boggling when the stark faces of poverty are reflected on your loved ones, on our destitute cousins, nieces and nephews who could not be employed despite college degrees and who were at a loss what to do with their lives.

How did they survive from day-to-day?

Wherever we went, there was always the yelling of the multitude of children some of whom will grow up to become drug addicts and drug pushers, menials and servants around the world in this Philippine Diaspora, high school dropouts, jobless and unskilled members of the labor force in an economy buffeted by “The Clash of Civilizations” which could escalate into a fight to the finish for contending systems of belief that could end contemporary civilization as we know it, potential gangsters and possible kidnappers, canon fodder of the military, or idealistic cadres and fighters of the protracted guerilla war for “national liberation” of the National Democratic Front.

Nor can I shake away the lilting and haunting melody of our Samarnon love songs and the coy and winsome smiles of the Samarnon lasses and the passionate and fevered glances of their suitors.

This passion for Samar reached fever-pitch when we had to leave the Philippines in late 1985 for fear of the unknown and the very real perils that could have befallen my loved ones and myself.  I was not proud to leave the Philippines at that time.  But leave we did, arriving in San Francisco, the so-called “City-by-the-Bay”, reputed to be the “Most Beautiful Place” on earth, with $10 in my wallet.

The  Fiesta as Our Entry Into the Samarnon Community in Northern California

After months of humiliation, hopelessness, frustration and constant desire to go back to the Philippines except that it would have been embarrassing to admit defeat in America, we were finally able to establish ourselves, thanks to the unselfish help of a fellow Samar High alumni from Calbiga.  We then gravitated to our fellow Samarnons in San Francisco.  Our mood of entry was through the pearly gates of heaven, the Samarnon and Catholic fiesta celebrations.  In Manila we only attended one fiesta celebration — just the Villahanon fiesta. In America, I could not believe the number of fiestas I attended.  We even went as far as Canada to attend a fiesta of the Basaynon Katig-uban.  In my entire life in the Philippines, I never danced the curacha.  But I loved to watch those graceful curacha dancers, anyway, clapping my hands to the beat of the music, sometimes sung by Joseph Uy. I would even toss a gala every now and then. In California, I could not believe that I had to dance the curacha  as a matter of honor and as a duty, an integral and unavoidable part of the self-imposed burden of community leadership.

Attending fiestas broke the monotony and the homesickness of being strangers in America. The celebrations also afforded us the much-needed break from the constant demands to speak English with our Samarnon accents, interspersed every now and then with “You knows…” and “Gonnas…”.

We were invited to all conceivable Samarnon fiesta celebrations.  We prayed, we attended fiesta masses, we marveled at the food which were so plenty. In one fiesta in San Francisco, I counted 17 courses!  One in Los Angeles, had seven lechons. During the eating (referred to us “luncheons”), we would glance at our fellow “Patronizers” who would heaped so much food on their plates but would only eat one-third of the food they got and just eat the crispy skins of the lechons, not the meat.  The uneaten food would be left on the tables or thrown to the garbage cans.  And I would remember the simple, the naïve, the malnourished, the emaciated, the sickly, and poor believers in the Catholic Saints in Samar; and the burning lines of Pope Paul VI’s encyclical,  Populorum Progressio which outlines the sacred obligation of the Catholic Church to help the poorest of the poor.

Our experience with Samarnon fiestas is difficult to explain.  One time in Los Angeles during the Catbaloganon fiesta, the organizers were fined some $700 or $800 dollars by the administrators of the public hall that was used as the venue of the celebration.  The infraction?  A guest was seen drinking Budweiser beer by the public facility administrators.  Since, alcohol is prohibited when using public facilities in Los Angeles, the believers in St. Bartholomew had to pay.  Imagine, how much $700 or $800 can do to help the aged and the homeless children in Catbalogan.

During one Villahanon fiesta in Los Angeles which celebrates the feast day of the first saint in all of America, the Sta. Rosa de Lima of Peru (sometimes I wonder which is poorer, the Philippines or Peru), the venue of the celebration was in a hall in a very lovely park.  It had blue ponds with swans gliding on the water, flowering plants, trees, well-kept lawns, and colorful birds chirping on the branches.  It was truly a beautiful place for a  fiesta celebration. A mass was celebrated by three priests.  When that part of the mass where the worshippers would give their offerings of money to the priests came about, five uniformed security guards descended on us.  They forced the priests to stop the mass.  We were of course very angry and on the verge of declaring a second Filipino-American War in Los Angeles except that Gen. Aguinaldo and Gen. Lukban had already surrendered to the Protestant American soldiers. The reason for the apparent insult to the Catholic “Little Brown Americans”?  The rules for the use of the park prohibit the solicitation of money inside the park. Our one-dollar offerings were construed as money-making by the park security guards. So it was illegal.

We were allowed to continue with the mass.  But the hermano had to make some $250 offering to the guards in the park. After the mass, we moved over to the dining hall which was part of the park facility.  Since alcohol was prohibited, what we did was to transfer the whisky to coca bottles.  From there, we poured them to paper cups.  We were at a loss what to do with the curacha since a Samarnon fiesta without curachas and galas is unheard of. Since money-making or solicitation was likewise prohibited in the dining hall, what we did was to place a box in an area of the hall which could not be scanned by the moving video camera.  With our galas clutched in our clinched fists, we surreptitiously dropped our dollars inside the box while looking around if the guards had seen us.

Since the dining hall was so crimped, we eventually moved to the house of the hermano and the hermana bringing with us the two untouched lechons, lots of other foods, and cases and cases of Budweiser and other hard drinks.  There we ate, and drink, and danced, and talked up to the wee hours of the morning.  Nobody mentioned the guerillas of the Sindero Luminoso or the Tupac Amaru in Peru who were fighting the establishment so that they can live a Christian life in the birthplace of the Sta. Rosa de Lima.

During a Calbiga fiesta in Los Angeles, we expressed our admiration at an hermana who came with her family all the way from Australia so that she could sponsor the fiesta celebration to the Lady of the Annunciation in Los Angeles.  We wondered:  Would her entry into heaven be less assured if she just used her Australian dollars to help the very poor in Calbiga or to try to convert the prospective Muslim suicide bombers in the Middle East to Catholicism?  I am still searching for a theological explanation for that admirable show of faith.

Involvement in the Non-Religious Organization Samareños of California

But fiestas, for all their divine promise of going to heaven for the avid “Patronizers” including us, were not psychologically and intellectually fulfilling. Besides, I had the suspicion that the fiesta organizers just wanted to ensure that the Saints intercede for them with the Virgin Mother, with St. Peter and the Lord so that they are forgiven their lapses and human frailties here on earth.  Hence, we were flattered when the remnants of the leadership of the Samareños of California, a group organized in 1969 or 1970, invited us in 1989 to help them revive their organization which had gone into hibernation for 10 years in some nooks and crannies of the foggy and fabled hills of San Francisco.

The organization was formed by a group of first generation Samarnon immigrants representing the entire island of Samar – the North, the East, and West.

The simple Constitution and Bylaws that the pioneers of this organization crafted together was not ambitious. It did not speak of a “vision” and a “mission” for the organization.  There is nothing that addresses the need to help each other in this “land of milk and honey”, to link their arms together in the struggle against discrimination and underemployment, nothing about programs and projects to help Samar, and nothing about enhancing and maintaining the desirable and functional civic, cultural, and artistic practices of the Samarnons.

But the compelling desire to be together was irrepressible to assuage their nostalgia and homesickness.  So they organized.

For nine years, the organization limped along.  In that period of time, they organized parties in hotels in San Francisco. The ladies wore their ternos and their brilliant gems.  The gentlemen wore their ill-fitting suits and unattractive ties.  They danced the curacha, visited each other, occasionally back stabbing each other, had home parties and prepared kinilaw, invited some priests from Samar, and boasted to the ruling White politicos in San Francisco that the leadership of the organization could mobilize hundreds of Samarnon voters for or against a politician in San Francisco, thus flexing their muscles to pursue the goal of Filipino empowerment in America. We are unaware if they undertook some socially-redeeming projects back in Samar.

From 1989, the year of our involvement with the Samareños of California, up to the present, a period of 15 years, this organization has survived.  We may not have rocked the foundation of Samarnon culture and society whether in America or in Samar.  But at least when Samarnons meet in the streets of San Francisco, we do not meet as strangers. And most importantly, we talk about Samar.

Given our limitations and the Samarnons’ peculiar civic culture and intellectual orientation, what else have we accomplished aside from our claim that the dancing parties and the beauty and popularity contest  — where several mayors from Eastern Samar attended the coronation of Her Majesty, Queen Patrocinio Figueroa-Masi I — we held three or four years ago indicate that the organization is alive?

Over and above everything else, we wanted to proclaim that we were relevant, that we personified the best qualities of the Samarnon.

How did we flesh this out?  For a start, we have sorted and packed books, magazines, and journals for the Books of the Barrios Program which were shipped to schools in Eastern Samar. We have participated in a “Pistahan” festival sponsored by the Philippine Resource Center in San Francisco enabling me to ride a float in a parade in downtown San Francisco as some kind of Apolinario Mabini.  In 1998, among the many provincial and regional organizations in Northern California, it was only the Samareños of California which participated in the Centennial Celebration of Philippine Independence through the efforts of Outstanding Samar High Alumna nominee, Beatrice Duran.

In July 2000, we were the only provincial organization which co-sponsored the symposium on Mindanao and Sulu, the first such symposium to be held outside of the Philippines. This symposium and the ensuing mass action where my one-year old grandson sat on the shoulders of his father while brandishing placards against the political and governmental leadership in the Philippines at that time may have signaled a change in the direction of contemporary Philippine history.

In November-December 2001, we were one of the sponsors of the UP Staff Chorale Society, the Philippines Ambassadors of Goodwill, during their concert tour of the US and Canada dubbed “Songs of Love and Healing”.  Dragging ourselves fearfully, in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, when the world was reeling with the carnage of September 11, 2001 where poor victims were jumping from the 112th floor of the Twin Towers in New York to die by being smashed to bloody bits and pieces on the streets below so that they could escape certain death by being incinerated to burning flesh and bones in the top floors of the Twin Towers, we exerted every effort to make the UP Staff Chorale Society’s concert tour a success, especially in Los Angeles when our fellow Samarnons opened their hearts and their homes to the 27-member choral group.

We have honored outstanding and highly accomplished professional and young Samarnons.  We have undertaken a search for the Most Relevant Samarnon Hometown Association which was won by the Guiuananons of Northern California.  We have assisted in enhancing Samarnon art and culture back in the home island.  We have intermittently published a newsletter, “Tingog Han Samar in California”.  But the pinnacle of our passion to help our fellow Samarnons was our miserable attempt in shipping two container vans of hospital and medical supplies intended to the provincial hospital in Catbalogan in 1997.  There has yet to be a closure on this sensitive issue which dramatizes the administrative incompetence of our leaders and the nauseating corruption of the Bureau of Customs.

We had other plans, but they have been relegated to the cobwebs of our fading memories, which included the aborted plan to sponsor an epic poem based on the legend of a giant in Eastern Samar, Makandog.

The Siren Call of Samar to Alienated Misfits in California

Our contention that we represented the best of the Samarnons, would invariably force us to situate our boast with the quality of our leaders in Samar, the select group who are entrusted with power, authority, and the responsibility of administering and managing Samar and the Philippines so that we are not the “basket case of Asia, one of the poorest countries in the world, maligned and constantly insulted by other nations, the source of servants, menials and ladies of the night, the place where the vacuum cleaners with sexual organs come from, and a nation where some Filipinos have been referred to by CNN as slaves”. Did these leaders in Samar exemplify our articulated statements that we in America, the Samareños of California personified the best qualities of the Samarnons?

The linkage was inevitable.

Moreover, our interest was not exactly without any selfish motivation.  Without letup, our cousins, relatives, nieces, nephews, friends, and alumni associations would pepper us with letters asking for our help.  They would call us long distance, collect.  We reasoned out that if the Philippine economy were progressive, if Samar were progressive because of competent and effective leaders, our cousins, relatives, nieces, nephews, friends, alumni associations would not be pelting us with their constant supplications for assistance. So it was logical that we had to take interest in what was happening in the Philippines, in what was happening in Samar. Even if we are here in the Golden State of California speaking ungrammatical English with an atrocious Samarnon accent, we could not sever the ties that bind us to our families in Samar and the Philippines. They are invisible, but they are stronger than steel.

Moreover, after years of associating the stupid lines of a stupid movie to us Samarnons, we have ultimately stopped being amused at the inane expressions: “Waray-Waray, Waray Bugas, Bahala na Bukas, Manigas” (rough translation:  “We have nothing, we have nothing, we have no rice, let tomorrow take care of itself, die if you have to die through apoplexy”).  When viewed side by side with the unflattering image of Samarnons as squatters and servants in Metro Manila, of being the No. 1 denizens in Muntinglupa or Bilibid, of being categorized by the NEDA as one of the most depressed regions of the Philippines, our feeling of self-pity engendered by the connotations of being “Waray-Waray” needed some psychological outlets.   [I had a long-running debate with one of my esteemed leaders of the Philippine political system in the Internet, the re-electionist Senator Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel, Jr.  Stumbling in the Internet on a speech he delivered at the Ateneo the Manila University on the various linguistic groups in the Philippines, where he referred to the Samarnon linguistic group as “Waray-Waray”, I asked him as a Cebuano-speaking Cagayano how he would like to be referred to as a “Way-Way” the Cebuano equivalent of “Waray-Waray”, how the Taga-ilogs would react if they are referred to as “Walang-Wala”, how the Ilocanos would react if we refer to them as “Awan-Nga-Awan”. I have become closer to Senator Pimentel since last year when he honored me with his invitation to have breakfast, dinner, lunch, merienda with him in Metro Manila.  I even organized two forums in San Francisco where he was the resource person.  I have not heard him say, “Waray-Waray”, at least not in my hearing.]

We had to clutch at something that could buoy up our sagging spirits, that would solidify our pride in ourselves, so that we could diminish our despair and sadness in being Samarnons and in being  disrespected Filipinos. We had to comfort ourselves that despite everything, there is hope for a better tomorrow if we could only have role models for our people, exemplary Samarnons whose examples can be emulated, leaders who can articulate the agenda for progress, who can mobilize us, and inspire us to do the best we can to ensure a better future for their children and their children’s children.

Contemporary Samarnon Role Models

In contemporary Samar, we had some vague ideas of some outstanding Samarnons. From 17,000 miles away across the Pacific Ocean, we have read and heard of Deng Coy Miel who is with the  Singapore Straits Times and the fame and acclaim that he has achieved not only in the Philippines but internationally as well. He is a shining example of the best among the Samarnons.  We have heard and read of the sacrifices of Charo Nabong-Cabardo, how she has offered the ultimate to the Filipino people, her life, how she has gone back to Samar from Metro Manila so that she could devote her talents and unwavering commitment to the island of Samar and its people by initiating the organization of the now-famous Tandaya Foundation.

In the not-so-distant past, there was Senate President Jose Avelino, a summa cum laude graduate of the Ateneo who went to the Pontifical University of Santo Tomas. As a student, he had an enviable scholastic record at the Ateneo that favorably compares with or better than that of Dr. Jose Rizal. In 1934, he was the most highly educated public figure from the Samar-Leyte Region and even the entire Philippines. No wonder, he had the confidence to offer himself as President of the Philippines.

Here in America, we have the Doroquez brothers. We dream that one could be a potential candidate for the Nobel Prize in Medicine in view of his current researches with probity into Genetics and the uncharted waters of Genomic at one of America’s foremost research institutions, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

How about Raul Daza?  A lawyer and a certified public accountant who passed both examinations with flying colors, he also captured the imagination of freedom-loving Filipinos when he fought against the conjugal dictators by escaping to California.  Some thought that he was a highly principled leader and a true alumnus of the University of the Philippines. However, in the not-so-distant past, some Samarnons have expressed their disbelief at the track record of Daza in the political and legal realms of the Philippines.

There are Samarnon writers, artists, journalists, revolutionaries, politicians, and princes of the Catholic Church. There was the Villahanon priest, Fr. Rudy Romano whose abduction — and torture because it seems his tongue was cut and he was drowned alive somewhere in the Visayan Seas — in the hands of still unknown elements has rocked the international religious and political order from the European Union to the US Senate. Others have been invested with awesome power and authority. But could they serve as role models and examples to our youth? We take note of the contributions they may have made to Samar and Philippine society. But have they captured the imagination of Samarnons and the Filipino people? Unfortunately, we think not.

Could Eddie Nachura Serve as a Role Model?

In ranging far and wide, in going back into our history, in reflecting on the leaders of Samar in contemporary times, Eddie Nachura exemplifies, somehow, the qualities that make him stand out as the most preeminent Samarnon of this generation.

How do we justify this assertion?

In sticking our neck out for Eddie Nachura, we judge him on his uncommon intellect, his writing abilities, his survival instinct, his infinite patience and unwavering commitment to serve the Samarnons despite continuous repudiation of his extraordinary qualities and qualifications, and of course the accord that he has been invested with by his peers, by the legal profession, and the rest of Philippine society.

First, there is Nachura’s academic achievements.  In the Samar High School — once the pinnacle of both public and high school education in the third largest island in the Philippines — he had the distinction of graduating as Valedictorian, Editor-in-Chief of the school paper, and President of the Student Government. These achievements might be dismissed as sophomoric but I don’t know how many outstanding graduates of Samar High School have been able to do what he did.  We can even ask that poor movie actor how difficult it is to finish high school. Compared to Eddie Nachura, we can assume that he did not have the brains and the intelligence good enough for high school studies, the diligence and the discipline, and the perseverance to study, attend classes, take innumerable quizzes, take departmental examinations when our hands would shake with anxiety and nervousness, for four years.    And yet he has the temerity of offering himself as the savior of the poverty-stricken and internationally maligned 83 million Filipinos.  [An intellectual ninny as leader of the 83 million Filipinos might be a blessing in disguise, though.  We don’t need to waste our hard-earned money and our time by studying in high school.  With a high school dropout at the top of Philippine society, a high school diploma and a college degree would be insulting to him.  We can tell our children to just finish with their elementary studies so that they will not insult their leader. Instead of wasting their time going to high school and dreaming of college education, they can start planting camote, bilanghoy or going through carrion and garbage in Payatas or sniffing shabu when they are done with the elementary grades.]

An unfortunate incident in the UP disqualified Eddie Nachura from continuing with his studies in Diliman.  He probably became a rake in Catbalogan where he pursued his AB in Samar College after being kicked out from UP.  But he did graduate; he then proceeded to the San Beda College of Law, where he graduated with honors.  He was one of the bar topnotchers in 1967.  In conclusion, he might have been a drunkard, but he was not an intellectual moron.

Still as a lawyer:  Eddie Nachura was Dean of the Arellano College of Law, a prosecutor of the House of Representatives of the Impeachment Trial of President Joseph Estrada, Undersecretary of Legal Affairs of the Department of Culture and Sports, a   Professor of Law and Bar Reviewer of the best colleges and schools of law in the country, i.e., San Beda College, University of Santo Tomas, Arellano Law Foundation, UP Law Center, Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila, Manuel L. Quezon University, and San Sebastian College. He is the author of the best selling “Outline-Reviewer in Political Law”, and editor of the legal tract, “Liberal Views on Constitutional Reform”.

He is of course the incumbent chairman of the House Committee on Constitutional Amendments.

The House of Representatives may not be our dream of a collection of the best brains in the country.  But not all of them are intellectual nincompoops either. Hence, it is still a distinction for Eddie Nachura to be elected Chairman of the Committee on Higher and Technical Education.

We adverted to his incomparable patience and humility in serving Samar despite successive heartaches in the hands of the very people he wanted to serve.  If Samar’s political culture is not warped and the political and social standards of its leaders are not distorted, under normal circumstances, Eddie Nachura could have become a delegate to the Constitutional Convention in 1971 because of his intellectual brilliance.  But he was cheated by the trapos (rough translation: “traditional politicians” or “dish rags”).  Successively, he presented himself as the Samarnons’ representative to the Congress of the Philippines.  But the naive, ignorant, selfish, and greedy political culture of our people could not appreciate his qualities and the potential contributions that he presented to them.  Again, he was successively repudiated, trampled politically, and derisively pointed out as an abnormal aberration by the triumphant victors and their followers in a god-forsaken-society.

These successive political debacles should have given him pause that perhaps God did not intend him to become the leader of the Samarnons, as someone who personifies the better qualities of our people.  In 1993, we were witness to the lament of Chit Nachura. Almost in tears, with a voice choking with anguish and profound unhappiness, Chit expressed her terrible sadness at the kind of people we are when even the mentors of our youth in Catbalogan did not hesitate to ask for some “gifts” from Congressional candidate Eddie Nachura before they would perform their duties. But Eddie smiling sadly, calmly countered that in his case, no matter what, he would continue to offer himself to Samar and the Filipino people to his dying day.

Finally, as if Divine Providence had finally concluded that Eddie Nachura had passed the divine test of infinite patience and perseverance flung along his way,  he finally won a mandate from the electorate of Samar in 1998. He earned another mandate in 2001 when he was pitted against two Samarnons who unfortunately were associated in one way or another with the two most corrupt institutions of the Philippine bureaucracy, the Bureau of Internal Revenue and the Bureau of Customs. The two gentlemen may have excelled in their respective endeavors at one time or another. But as prospective statesmen, mentors, leaders, and mobilizers of a feudal and a traditional community for rapid change and development, I am frankly at a loss to understand why they would think that they had the qualities needed for such critical and urgent tasks. Be as it may, Eddie Nachura had to triumph.

We are a proud Samarnon and Filipino, but terribly unhappy with the conditions in the island, which, of course cannot be dissociated from the rest of the Philippines, and the international economic and political order. Despite the constant lamentations that we hear, we are still hopeful that we can avoid going in the direction of a Rwanda where rivers were pouring rotting corpses instead of clean water, or a Somalia which has reverted to a brutish society of thugs and lawless chieftains without any laws, or a Cambodia and its Killing Fields with its mountains of skulls. Hence, we have ventured into this unpopular and risky business of judging people.  But as that expression goes:  “Kon diri kita, hin-o man? Kon diri yana, san-o pa?” (“If not us, who else?  If not now, when?”)

In this instance, we are aware that this paean can blow up in our face.  The future is still enshrouded in a thick mist reminiscent of the fog that covers the hills of San Francisco every now and then. For all we know, Eddie Nachura might still become the greatest Samarnon scoundrel who ever lived.  After all, appearances can be misleading. And the future is yet to unfold.  Or he might just be the elitist that he is reputed to be, a misplaced legal luminary and intellectual who happens to come from one of the most depressed regions of a depressed country. Indeed, a sharp contrast.  But at this moment in Samar’s history, it is difficult not to express our admiration of Eddie Nachura and to point him out as personifying the best qualities of   Samar and the ideal Samarnon.

Servants, Kidnappers, Drug Addicts, Political and Social Disorders, a Society on the Verge of a Breakdown: Is there Hope?

Samar and the Philippines are in a bad shape. In 1997, four years before the economic meltdown caused by the tragedy of September 11, 2001, almost 32% of Filipinos had income below the poverty threshold. In 2004, the data on poverty in Samar and the Philippines could be worse.  We know that unemployment is massive. Corruption and incompetence is rampant in the Philippine political and administrative system. The Philippine economy needs restructuring in the light of the impact of globalization. There is rampant criminality, drug addition, hold ups.  The Philippines is undeniably the kidnap capital of the world.  There is talk of a military junta.  We are involved in the fight against terrorism and fanaticism.  And the Muslim secessionist movement in Southern Philippines continues to fester with a possible linkage to a violent Muslim fundamentalist and expansionist group, the Jemaah Islamiyah, which makes no secret of its ultimate goal of detaching Mindanao and Sulu from Luzviminda.

And what is very sad is that more and more young people are being drawn into the idealistic and romantic embrace of the National Democratic Front. They must be prepared to offer their lives for the dream of a socialist, egalitarian, productive, and respected Philippine society.  Even members of the middle class who have so much to loss and who are totally ignorant of the meaning and significance of “national democracy” and “historical determinism”, believe that the situation in the Philippines is hopeless, that the only way by which our myriad of political, economic, cultural, and social ails can be remedied is for a national bloodbath to occur to cleanse us of our national malady.  Of course, this is easy to say if one were 17,000 miles away from the place of the carnage.

Reform or revolution?  Political and administrative competence or national meltdown?  Hope for the future or national despair? International insults or international respect? These are questions, among others, that the concerned Samarnon, the concerned Filipino wherever we are, will have to grapple with.

In the process of sifting through the complexities and ramifications of the issues confronting us, the intellect, the patience, the experiences, the passion, the leadership, and the example provided by Eddie Nachura will serve as the beacon light to the Samarnons and to the Filipinos in this generation.

In our opening paragraphs we cited the difficulties, our anguish, and the hardships of our people, including those who are dear to us.  We are not saying that if elevate Eddie Nachura to a pedestal and clone him 10 times, and do the same for other competent and sincere Samarnon leaders and administrators together with the national officials, princes of the Church, members of the civil society and the battalions of our soldiers, that our pain and our anguish will disappear in one month.  We know this is not so.  It will take hundreds of thousands of us working together, guided by a common vision, persevering, sacrificing, and deriving strength and inspiration from each other for the 83 million Filipinos to dream of a better tomorrow, a society where some of its unfortunate citizens are not subsisting on garbage in Payatas and Smokey Mountain, nor sleeping under bridges or in catacombs in cemeteries or selling their bodies so that they can survive another day or sniffing drugs to quench their constant hunger. But without Eddie Nachura and people like him, our future is dark and gloomy.

On February 14, 2004, during the 35th anniversary of the annual reunion and gathering of the Samareños of California at the Gateway-Sheraton Hotel in Burlingame, California, a suburb of San Francisco, the Hon. Antonio Eduardo B. Nachura was the Distinguished Guest of Honor.  He finally graced the gathering of our group after years of repeated invitations.  Accepting the invitation was a welcome respite from the multitude of attention that confronted him in Samar and in the Philippines.  Despite numerous invitations to address a forum at the Philippine Consulate, do a radio interview for a Filipino radio program, conduct a dialogue with Filipino veterans in San Francisco, and socialize with some Samarnons in the San Francisco Bay Area, Congressman Nachura just rested and developed the theme of his discourse.

He regaled and mesmerized the more than 250 Samarnons and their guests with his extemporaneous speech concerning the need for Samarnons to look back to the land they have left behind, to assist in whatever way they can, especially in the education of the Samarnon youth, and to re-examine their thinking regarding the Overseas Absentee Voting Law and the Dual Citizenship Law which grant new legal rights to Filipinos outside of the Philippines.

His speech was well-received and highly commended.

After five days in San Francisco, he flew to Los Angeles and Las Vegas.  His visit and his dialogues with Samarnons and Filipinos were front page news in the Filipino press in Southern California and Nevada.  His media coverage by the Filipino press in Southern California was massive, a privilege not accorded to just any politician who happens to drop by California. This was solely for the benefit of the most preeminent Samarnon of his generation, Eddie Nachura.

Blazing a Trail, Showing the Way…

by Cesar Torres (September 14, 2005)

There is so much that the Villahanons could claim that would set them apart from the broader Samarnon society. This fiesta celebration for instance in Metro Manila is one of them. Originally, only a single hermano or hermana would be responsible for the fiesta celebration. Then, it became two, then, three, then four, and now, there are a whole lot of them. And there is no lack of volunteers.

Originally, only Villahanons residing in Metro Manila would be the hermanos or hermanas. Then Villahanons from the hometown joined in. Soon with our Diaspora, when we started roaming the world, Villahanons from other parts of the globe became hermanos and hermanas. Somehow, there was a feeling that if one had not become an hermano or hermana in the Feast of the Sta. Rosa in Metro Manila, one had not yet completed the process of total social acceptance and the sense of belonging to a community of courageous innovators and trailblazers with an intense sense of social commitment.

Originally, anyone could join in the festivities and partake of the food, the camaraderie, and the dancing, even gatecrashers. It was a fiesta after all. The celebrations were never held in ornate, and exclusive 5-star hotels unlike other Samarnon fiesta celebrations with their hilarious claims to social elitism and irrelevance reminiscent of the Spanish Frayles and the Guardia Civiles. The Villahanon fiesta celebrations in Metro Manila were very egalitarian and democratic, in the spirit of the early Christians when they were being persecuted and hiding in the catacombs of Rome.

Fleshing out the social significance of Catholicism and its religious celebrations was originally not of paramount importance. We were just concerned with going to heaven, pleasing the Church and the believers of the first saint in the Americas. But then, eating, drinking, dancing, saying the novena, taking communion, and making the sign of the cross were becoming less compelling when viewed within the context of the needs of the Villareal community. There had to be other socially-redeeming activities revolving around the fiesta.

Consequently, the gala generated through the curachas were funneled to the Parish and to other projects for the community. Indeed, they may not have been aware of it, but they were living Pope Paul VI’s Encyclical, “Populorum Progressio” and the pronouncements of Vatican II, the reasons why Fr. Rudy Romano was abducted, tortured, brutalized and rumored to have been drowned somewhere in Maripipi, between Cebu and Leyte.

But the most dramatic achievement of the Villahanons in Metro Manila was the decision to undertake a project which has never been done voluntarily in the history of the Philippines. This was to repair and cement an 8-kilometer public road connecting the town to the Pan Philippine Highway. It was going to be done through Tiklos or Bayanihan. This was going to be done without waiting for the imprimatur of two levels of Government which are generally perceived to be incompetent and corrupt — the Provincial Government of Samar and the National Government.

Spearheaded by the Villahanon Association of Metro Manila (VAMM) whose leaders and mobilizers include its President, Jun Dasmariñas, Alice Rapanan-Murillo, Elizabeth Gelera-Latoja, Yolanda Go, Maribel Sacendoncillo, Cayo Romano, Buff Seludo, Douglas Seludo, Tito Go, Boogie Zabala, Nalding Seludo, Anito R. Japson, Santi Dasmariñas, Evelyn Manalang, Ding Latoja, Bubbles Zabala, Atty. Lope R. Torres, Fr. Antonio O. Gerente, Pascual L. Seludo Jr., Anito Japson, Tarcela Simbul, Ernesto Tan, Capt. Arturo F. Varela, especially, Engr. Tim Murillo, and many, many others, they were linked to many other Villahanons through the Internet such as Ruben Gerardo in Norway who created a website just for this purpose, Jimmy and Inday Romano-Haw in Sacramento, California who have donated thousands of dollars, Victor and Dr. Mansueta Hilvano in Los Angeles, Rino and Ding Ragub and Nora Chawla in Canada, Lotlot Fallorina in South Carolina, and Paolo Lean Torres Pimentel and his brother, Anton Diego Torres Pimentel, in San Francisco, California.

The donors as well as those who have made pledges but have not been able to redeem their pledges so far are listed in the website that Ruben Gerardo has created (http://www.villa.gitsrc.net/). The list and other information concerning this enterprise are there for everyone in the world to see.

At the home front, there is of course Mayor Renato “Boy” Latorre, and Vice Mayor Babam Cabueños, and the entire municipal government. In addition, the town civic leaders and gatekeepers, even those who might make the sign of the cross and mutter a prayer once the names of Boy Latorre and Babam are mentioned, hopped on this once-in-a-century collective process. Even the very young school children are helping. And those Villahanons coming from the island barangays.

Unfortunately, these two are associated with Bayan Muna, a political movement whose members, because of their unquestionable patriotism, pro-poor, total, and unswerving belief in serving the oppressed Filipino people first are being killed one by one by shadowy figures whose naiveté and ignorance of the challenges of contemporary Third World societies are so pathetic and beyond belief. Consequently, the novelty, the profound implication, and the impact of this Villahanon social experiment on Philippine society are beyond the understanding of the ordinary bureaucrats and the incompetent TRAPOS and their minions in the military.

In any case, this collective, voluntary, Internet-driven social innovation sent shock waves throughout the Philippines and perhaps in the Third World.

Villahanons and their friends all over the world, such as the eloquent Basaynon, Adelbert Batica — through a massive use of the Internet, we have two websites anyway, with three electronic groups — donated money, cement, and labor. Where P10 million was needed to cement one kilometer of road if undertaken by a corrupt and incompetent government functionaries, the Villahanons were doing this at a cost of P1.8 million per kilometer! An earth-shaking difference in cost, indeed!

The benefit was not only in terms of saving some scarce funds and the public good that a first class road could redound to the community. There was the most vital element of all — the pride in being part of a historical process, a process that could pave the way for similar undertakings not only in road building, but also in other aspects of the Villareal community, especially livelihood projects. For once, we were showing the world that poor as we are, we are not shamelessly extending our hand begging for dole outs from a corrupt and incompetent political and governmental leadership with the inevitable corrupted portion of the public funds going to corrupt officials and their fellow conspirators. We were proud, dignified, and felt respectable.

But as we are laboring on this piece, several events in recent weeks have transpired which have an impact on the Villahanons, the Samarnons, and the rest of the 87 million Filipinos, of whom 8 million are in Diaspora all over the world.

First, there was the decision of the House of Representatives of the Philippine Congress by a vote of 158 to 51 with 6 abstentions, not to elevate the impeachment of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to the Senate. This congressional action does not mean that everything is lovey-dovey with everyone. Whatever happened, this embattled President will be limping along towards I know not what. The crystal ball is murky on her fate and that of the Filipino people. And we wonder if this Government can ever contribute in finishing the cementing of the road. After all, this President has danced the curacha in the municipal plaza when reputedly her closest friend at that time was Dr. Maruja Seludo, a member of Villa’s elite families.

Secondly, for the entire Philippines, but specifically with respect to us Villahanons and our people from the Samar-Leyte-Biliran region, there is the transfer of Gen. Jovito Palparan to Central Luzon. Dubbed the butcher of Mindanao, Mindoro, and the Eastern Visayas because of his misguided obsession to eliminate everyone whom he might consider as “enemies” of the state and its government, based on his own criteria — which obviously include the incompetents, the plunderers, the thieves, and the bloodsuckers in the government —  this man whose studies and training might have been made possible by the suffering Filipino masses at the Philippine Military Academy, symbolizes the gut-wrenching dilemma confronting poor societies in contemporary times, especially the Philippines. How to deal with the poor, the oppressed, the ignorant, and the exploited in our country. Kill all of them? Like Mayor Latorre, Babam Cabueños, and others who are critics of an incompetent Philippine government and an iniquitous political and social order?

Thirdly, there is the document dated August 27, 2005 issued by the National Council of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, entitled “NDFP PROPOSES CONCISE AGREEMENT TO END CIVIL WAR AND ACHIEVE JUST PEACE IMMEDIATELY”.

Written by the NDFP leaders who are in voluntary exile in peaceful, rich, respected European country of the Netherlands, the document has an addendum by its Consultant, Jose Maria Sison. It states: “The civil war ends and a just peace begins as soon as the GRP (Government of the Republic of the Philippines) co-signs this 10-point concise but comprehensive peace agreement with the NDFP Alliance and truce becomes the modus vivendi of the GRP and the NDFP.”

This document is probably being discussed now by the flickering light of a kerosene lamp by the 8,000 members of the New People’s Army or under an acacia tree when there is a full moon and while their stomachs are rumbling with hunger, while they are almost fainting with malnourishment and fever, while the mosquitoes are buzzing around their ears, while the sick and the wounded are begging for medications, and while trying to dodge the bullets of the government soldiers in some remote mountain fastnesses of Samar and the Philippines.

If there is no peace in Villa, in Samar, in the entire Philippines because the leadership of the National Democratic Front and the incompetent and corrupt TRAPOS and their military minions have to ensure that their personal prestige and their places in the annals of history or their economic interests are protected and enhanced, what happens to the trailblazing and innovative social experiments of the Villahanons? Will Mayor Boy Latorre and Vice Mayor Babam Cabueños and others in a rumored military death list continue to be on guard and should be prepared to die soon?

But with a new commanding general in the Eastern Visayas Region, there seems to have been a discernible shift in the mission of the soldiers whose salaries are being paid by the poor and oppressed Filipino people, including the poor Villahanons and Samarnons. It seems that during the fire that gutted the elementary school in Calbiga, Villa’s sister town, allegedly due to the drunken irresponsibility of school officials, it was the soldiers who roused the town from their sleep so that the fire could be put out. Now, they seem to be constructing schoolrooms so that the school children can continue their studies. How we wish that the partisans of the National Democratic Front will work hand in hand with the soldiers to construct not only school buildings in Calbiga, but also in finishing that 8-kilometer death road in Villareal, in the spirit of Bayanihan, of Pintakasi, of Tiklos.

Unhappily, because they know more, the “civil war” in the Philippines — that means the beheadings, abductions, summary killings, tortures, ambushes, roadside bombings, people’s courts, the crying and lamentations of the orphans and widows in agony — must go on. The guns of the soldiers and the NPAs have to be fired, the bullets used, the bombs have to be detonated. There are more of them where they come from.

So we can only moan in anguish. And if we are believers, we raise our hands in fervent supplication to the Santa Rosa, the Patron Saint of the Villahanons and the impoverished Peruvians who have been rocked by a revolution similar to what we have in Villa, in Samar, and in the Philipines: “Ig-ampo kami Santa Rosa, ngadto han Ginoo, nga kalo-oyan kami nga matagan hin kamorayaw yana ngan han katapus han kinabuhi han natuod ha imo, labi na an mga kablas ngan guin tatalumpigos nga mga Villahanon ngan makalolo-oy nga Pilipino.”

[*The author is a regular columnist of “The Filipino Insider”, a monthly supplement of the “San Francisco Chronicle”, one of the major newspapers in America with a circulation of 500,000. He also writes occasionally for the “Manila US Times” which is based in Southern California. He is one of the founders and moderators of the “Gugma han Samar Cyberspace Movement”. A former Assistant Professor of Political Science in the University of the Philippines in Diliman, the author has not lost touch with his native land despite the pressures of community involvement in California, in Samar, in Villa and his employment in the State of California. He can be reached at   Cesar1185@aol.com]

 

ARE THEY CRAZY?

by Cesar Torres (April 11, 2005)

Who are they? What are they doing?

This is the story of a people in the  Philippines, in the town of Villareal, in the island of Samar. A gateway to the Christianization and Hispanization of the Philippines, Samar has been classified by the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) as a “depressed area”, another term for “poor”.

With practically no assistance from the provincial and the national governments, the people of this fourth class town have been repairing and cementing an almost impassable 8-kilometer public road since October 2004 through voluntary work, known in the Philippines as “bayanihan”. This road connects the town to the Pan-Philippine Highway, which traverses the entire Philippine Archipelago from  Northern Philippines to the Southern tip of Mindanao.

So far, more than one kilometer has been cemented. Voluntary labor is provided by the townspeople. Even those coming from the island barrios or  barangays volunteer their labor. The municipal employees work on the road on Saturdays. Some townspeople, who are not allowed to volunteer to work on the road because it is not their turn yet, are sometimes angry. They think they are being left out. They feel they are not important, hence they feel they do not belong.

Even school children help.

The enthusiasm is unflagging. At the moment, there is a stockpile of cement. More donations are pouring to the town. So far, about P500,000 – a little less than $10,000 – has been contributed to this road-cementing fund. They come from all over the world. The Internet has been an effective medium of communicating with the Villahanons. Civic leaders, some of whom were people who did not vote for the Mayor of the town, keep the donated funds.

A check with Atty. Oscar G. Yabes, Secretary of the Philippine Senate elicits the information that it costs P10 million per kilometer to cement a public road if done by the government. In contrast, the imputed cost of this voluntary, bayanihan, road-cementing project is only P1.8 million. A difference of P8.2 million!

This voluntary road-cementing project of the people in Villareal, Samar is a whiff of fresh air coming from the only colony of the US and the only Christian country in Asia which President Bush has dubbed the “second front” in the fight against the deadly struggle against terrorism.

“Polo” or forced labor for the Filipinos and the Chinese to undertake public construction during the Spanish Regime might have been an ugly reality during those times. But since the occupation of the  Philippines by the Americans in 1901 when Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo was captured in Palanan, Isabela, up to this time, voluntary, enthusiastic, sought-after, and publicly-accepted community labor to repair and cement a public road has never been undertaken, except in Villareal, Samar since October 2004. Perhaps, during the three-year occupation by the Japanese of the Philippines, Filipinos might have been forced to work on public construction. But this would have been the exception, rather than the rule.

The implications of what these poor Samarnons are doing are profound. First, they have regained their pride and self-respect. They are not smiling stupidly and sheepishly, holding out their hands to some contemptible public functionary for dole outs where they can divide the spoils while partying in some dingy nightclubs. They are in effect telling their incompetent and corrupt political and governmental officials that: “Go ahead, steal and plunder as much as you can. Nothing lasts forever. There is always a reckoning someday.”

Secondly, if they can repair and cement a public road, they can do other things for the community: build schoolrooms, construct mini-irrigation dams, clean their streets, construct public toilets, protect their environment from destruction, and establish cooperative livelihood projects with the help of their town mates from all over the world.

But the most important lesson of this bayanihan, community, road building, and cementing project is the goodwill, the trust, and the pride that have been generated among the people of Villareal, Samar. They can tell the world: “We may be poor, but we are not beggars. We trust our leaders in our town. They are working together for the common good. So we will support them.”

These are the hallmarks of a democratic society, a people aware of their responsibilities, their rights, and their dignity and willing to sacrifice for them.

But as we are extolling the novelty of a proud, self-reliant, dignified, and poor group of people, in a Third World society, a dark pall is hovering over this land. The Mayor of this town, Renato R. Latorre, has been able to mobilize his town mates all over the world. But he is popularly known to be associated with a pro-poor, pro-Filipino group, Bayan Muna or “Country First”. I don’t think he has the intellectual sophistication to argue with anyone on the various “isms” that characterize the more articulate personalities associated with this group. Highfalutin concepts and pompous ideas of “historical determinism” and “laws of history” are beyond his ken. It is enough that no one can question his passion to help his people. And yet because of an emerging pattern where people who have been very vocal in their criticisms of a weak and ineffective governmental system to provide the basic needs of the 84 million Filipinos, Mayor Latorre’s life can be snuffed any time now.

To say that it would be a waste to kill Mayor Latorre or the father of the child shown in the picture is an understatement. In the Philippines, the killing of those who are aware of their responsibilities as leaders of the people and are discharging them to the best of their abilities while the corrupt, the plunderers, the exploiters, and the criminals are free and are lionized by the powers-that-be who are in uniform or in coat and tie or barong tagalog and using weapons provided by American taxpayers has become an almost daily occurrence.

Indeed, it is not the people of Villareal, Samar or their Mayor or this young girl who have become crazy. And you don’t need to have a Ph.D. from Berkeley to arrive at your own conclusion.

[The author is a regular columnist of “The Filipino Insider”, a monthly supplement of the “San Francisco Chronicle”, one of the major newspapers in America with a circulation of 500,000. This piece is for the April 2005 issue of the publication. He can be reached at Cesar1185@aol.com.]

 

Villa – Half a Century and More of Remembrances

by Cesar Torres 

The expression: “Everyone needs a hometown to love or to hate…” seems to apply to the Villahanons. I am not really sure where I got this. Perhaps, it was an original idea by Samar’s Poet Laureate, Aniceto Llaneta, a classmate in Samar High. When the late Postal Regional Director Andres Cabueños was Editor-in-Chief of “An Lamrag” and Secretary of the Province of Samar, Aniceto and some of our classmates would cut classes to listen to him as a convocation speaker in Catbalogan schools. Those were simple days when we were innocent. We love the written word and admire brainy people.

 Perhaps, Aniceto got the expression from somewhere else. But to me, the important thing is that this expression somehow captures the sentiments of the Villahanons with respect to their hometown, Villareal, Samar, the only town in the Philippines which has an endearing nickname, Villa.

In some Villahanon souvenir publication honoring the Peruvian Saint, the Santa Rosa de Lima, I recall writing about the “dualism” inherent in that expression.”’To love or to hate…’ This is the moral dilemma of mankind. It symbolizes the synthesis of opposites. The dualism immanent in the universe – of beauty and ugliness, of purity and corruption, of heaven and earth.’

We love Villa! We hate Villa! We love Villa… It is like a mantra of the Hindu mystics.

The emotional force of this contradiction seems to enchain us to Villa. The bond is stronger than steel. After all, it is forged with every drop of our blood, every beat of our hearts. Thus, even if we are in Singapore, Tokyo, Hongkong, Canada, Norway, or someplace in Europe, in America, in the Middle East, in Australia, Brunei, and other parts of the world, or sailing the high seas as lonely mariners, our thoughts are never far from our hometown.

For some of us who are away from the homeland and whose lives seem to be trailing the sinking sun beyond the western shores of Maqueda Bay, frequent are the times when our minds wonder to those bygone days. Detailed clarity might be blurring but the general outlines are still lingering in our failing memories.

A hometown is where the heart is. It is not necessarily the place where one first saw the light of day, like me. I was born in Silanga, Catbalogan, Samar, a rich fishing ground many, many years ago. But it is in Villa where my memories are rooted more intensely.

What are some of these memories?

Having been born in the Second World War, as a child, I saw Japanese soldiers in Sigad in full uniform carrying guns with their helmets adorned with twigs that had still green leaves on them. They appeared to be crouching, crawling, then lying flat on the grass with their guns pointed at something. I think there were three of them. Nadulhog kami from our farm in Lam-awan to the bongto, the poblacion, at that time.

During the war and the Japanese occupation of the Philippines, I think we stayed mostly in our farm in Lam-awan. But even there, I have vague memories of my grandfather, Apoy Amboy (Pablo Ranera), and my aunts and uncles, the entire family, climbing the hills breathing hard, almost gasping. They were escaping from something or someone. One time, we hurriedly went to a shelter hidden in a bamboo grove, mga kawayan, which were growing on both sides of the stream. No one would suspect that there was a shelter deep in the heart of the kawayan grove. Of course, I did not know why those things were happening to us. But I remember, we would do this every time we would hear the frantic banging of the “talutang”, that bamboo instrument used to warn people that danger is imminent.

It must have been “Liberation”. I remember there were so many people harvesting rice in our “hagna”. Suddenly the skies were filled with airplanes, wave after wave after wave. Nobody told me why there were so many airplanes. We just looked up. I did not asked why there were so many airplanes either. After that, in the early evenings we would sit on our individual “banko”, and face Southeast, and turn our gaze beyond the mountains of Lam-awan. We could see lights streaming in the distant skies beyond the mountains. I learned later that they were tracer bullets. This was during the Battle of Leyte Gulf when the Americans had returned to the Philippines.

I have vague memories after that. But I think we went to Tacloban aboard some boats. I remember passing by “Bangon”, and sucking on raw eggs. And in San Juanico Straits nearing Tacloban, there were warships, where I could see naked white men taking showers on the decks.

I did not see an American soldier in Villa. But I remember all those delicious carne norte in long cans, courtesy of the American people. And the woolen blankets. Up to the time when I was in Samar High, we would still use those woolen American blankets, remnants of the American return to Samar.

My first day in Grade One, at least, the first early morning, is still clear in my mind. I think together with my aunts and uncles who were going to school also, we hiked from Lama-awan to the poblacion. It was still dark when we arrived in the elementary school. We were made to assemble below that famous acacia tree where enkantados have been rumored to be in residence. There was community singing. I do not remember the song. My teacher in Grade One was probably the late Mana Anggay.

Thereafter, life was a blur. We constructed a house in Tayod. But we still maintained our house in the “Uma”, the farm in Lam-awan. The poblacion was a sleepy town where you can hear the chirping of the crickets, ngiya-ngiya, even at noontime, and the romantic singing of the Villahanons especially in the early evenings when they were drinking tuba, men and women. When you walk the grassy streets, you might step on dog poo and pig’s leavings – the most “kadiri” to me especially when it happens to you when the ground was wet after a rain – and when you go to the laguertas which were green with guava plants, you cannot miss the colorful and rotting waste of many Villahanons. I don’t know how many had toilets at that time. There were some of us from Tayod who would go down to Hawod to relieve ourselves. Doing this between two big stones while gazing at the beauty of the starry night and conscious of the gentle swishing of the wavelets around you was almost a mystical experience. Unsanitary? Oh yes! But we were one with nature, a process of recycling especially when the fish would gobble them up which we then would catch and broil. Aaaarrrrgh!!!

We were already in Tayod when I first heard the sound of a motor vehicle in Villa. It must have been stuck in that Bayanihan road. I don’t know if it arrived intact in the town. I recall also that we pupils in the elementary school had to bring one stone every day to the school, stones which we then deposited on the Bayanihan Road.

We would go to the farm to plant rice, corn, camote or bilanghoy or gaway or harvest them. We would go to the farm to get firewood. We would roam the hills and the meadows stupidly trying to kill the defenseless birds with our slingshots. During summer when there was no drinking water, a group of us, boys and girls and our elders with long coconut tubes on our shoulders, we called them “salod”, would parade on the trails via the Sigad, to get drinking water. We would have been a sight during moonlight nights, six, ten boys and girls with long bamboo tubes on their shoulders, marching on the trails one after the other.

My family had no money. But I did see American coins, leftovers of the American occupation. So if we had no viand, and we are sick and tired of the salty hipon or shrimp paste of salted bahong, of kayod, and kisiyo, of bulad, we would troop to the seashore at low tide, during humbas, para mamangti, looking for seashells – sangpiyad, bukawel, karang karang, tikod hin daraga or just plain dahonan and lato. We would eat sangpiyad raw, we would get two of them, knock them on each other, and scoop out the sangpiyad flesh. One time, I stumbled on a binga. It was a happy day for my brother, Lope, and me and my family. Since many Villahanons were “cashless”, the adults would use their nets, sudsod, to catch fish, shrimps, crabs, crustaceans, and other products of our sea. Having a tinola of sinudsuran is more delicious than the French “bouillabaisse”.

For us youngsters, fishing, swimming, beachcombing, doing errands, going to church, to school, getting firewood, playing were integral parts of our lives. Our toys were were organic such as orokay which we used as tires when we were crafting cars and trucks. Except for the plastic heel of worn out shoes which we treasured for our games, our toys were all biodegradable. We played sato. We would go around the town from Tayod to Rawis to Kan Pia Otot (Barangay Villarosa), hitting that small stick with a long one, while our opponents would try to catch the short stick; and then running while holding our breaths. There was tatse, barobanyakay where we kicked bundled multicolored rubber bands, nirotigbasay during moonlight nights, rurumba (racing against each other whether in the school plaza or in the town streets in the afternoons, Virgilio Latorre was unbeatable), tagotago-ay (hide and seek, I like it very much when the girls would join us especially during dark nights or even during moonlight nights provided there were dark nooks and hiding places).

I think every Villahanon was a Roman Catholic at that time. So all Villahanons went to the Church of the Santa Rosa de Lima religiously. We listened patiently to masses said in Latin, which was of course weird because they were incomprehensible to us, even the “Ora Pronobis and the Pater Noster”. We confessed our sins and took communion. Then we sinned again, whatever they were. We studied cathecism in summer, especially in May. I was very good pupil. I even got a Pals Pomade as my reward. In May, we loved watching the girls in their white uniforms with flower garlands around their dainty heads and their blue sashes around their slim waists. We vowed to marry the pretty ones by eloping with them while riding on a white horse to Paradise.

At 6:00 o’clock in the evening, the towering kampanaryo would chime with the bells. The kampanaryo which was probably constructed out of the slave labor of the Villahanons, the towering kampanaryo which had a panoramic view of Maqueda Bay to safeguard Catholic Villa from the onslaughts of the Warriors who believe in Mohammed and the Sultanates of Sulu and Maguindanao. It was Angelus time. If we were on the streets, we would stop, make the sign of the cross, and hurry up to home. At home, after our simple supper, we would wash the dishes. And then we would gather around the living room, perhaps the sala for the likes of Mila Figueroa and Virgilio Latorre who were rich and had big houses. Since there were no radios, no TVs, no computers, we would listen to our elders tell stories to us, part of our oral tradition. Usually, the stories were about engkantos and aswangs. And then to provide more drama and legitimacy to the aswang stories, something would fly overhead making the sound of “Wak, wak, wak, wak.” So we had no doubt whatsoever that indeed there were Aswangs or Wakwaks.

During summer the cycle was the farm, the sea, picnics, marking the nests of the birds, playing with our kites, fetching drinking water with our salod, getting firewood from the farms sometimes from the mangroves in Pangpang, rising early and going to bed early too.

During Christmas, there were panarits, Christmas Carols, and lantern contests. Even in the farms, there were groups who would walk from one hill to another hill singing the panarits all night long.

And on Christmas Day in the poblacion, the Child Jesus would be paraded around the town. A kiss and a ting-a-ling of the bells of the Sacristans would earn the Church P0.01. One centavo at that time could still buy you a butterball candy.

There was some kind of a physical, cultural, economic, and political divide between Tayod and Hawod. There were “warfares”, “invasions” among the young warriors of Tayod and Hawod. The weapons were organic. Just bamboo guns with bullets carved from the roots of a tuber. There were haringas, water guns. Nobody died of course, like what is happening now between the soldiers and the NPAs and the MILF and the MNLF and the Abu Sayyaff. The world has become more civilized and more advanced.

Since there was no radio, no TV, no movies, and many could not afford to go to Catbalogan to watch a movie, entertainment for special occasions such as the fiesta in August, was through a “Komedya”. The rehearsals were done on a site near the building of the Holy Name Academy. The usual theme was the classic confrontation between systems of belief represented by the Mujaheddins of Saladin and the Knights of Richard the III and the Crusaders (perhaps the mysterious Knights Templar), a confrontation that goes back to Granada in 1492 and which continues to unfold today and could sound the death knell of mankind. It seems this Villahanon Komedya was known far and wide. Visitors from the neighboring towns and as far away as Carigara in Leyte, would come in boatloads to watch the Villahanon Komedya, sell their wares, partake of humba and other delicious Villahanon preparations for the fiesta, imbibed on tuba and whisper sweet nothings to Villahanon lasses. And the Villahanon swains would do the same to lovely lasses from such neighboring towns as Zumarraga. The late Villahanon educator and icon, Ninang Maring Romano, told me that there would be hundreds of boats anchored from end to end on the Villa waterfont. The late Eduardo “Dadoy” Hilbano was a towering figure in this art form.

While there was scarcity – having scrambled eggs seasoned with the fragrant sibuyen or having fried chicken were abnormal occurrences – there was also abundance. In August, the rice harvested in the previous planting season could not last the whole year through. So families had to make do with duma, root crops, and corn, which seems to be the favorite of the Cebuanos. However, cooking corn grits with coconut milk with a buraw barol embedded in the daba and then partaking of the combination is beyond description. We would close our eyes with the delicious preparation. And as a test how delicious the combination was of corn, cooked in coconut milk and barol nga buraw, we had to gulp water from a coconut shell because we were thirsty (hinihibol).

There was abundance of camote, bilanghoy, saging, all sorts of saging you would not believe the variety of saging at that time, silot, pako, fresh air, tubo, bokawel, tuba, bulad, sisi, fruits, sweet, luscious fruits, pasayan, and fresh fish. Tabangongo was and still is a delicacy. Having tabangongo with bihud or mother bangus, bangrus, which were so fat and so cheap and hanananaw, a sting ray with white liver which was the main ingredient of binakhaw, can make you forget everything else, even your girl friends or boy friends, including your numerous “Good Fors” from Mana Sabel and Mana Leling. Crabs, oh boy. One time, there were so many crabs that you don’t need to use a net to capture them. They would swim to the surface of the sea, almost begging you to scoop them to your containers. Crabs, crabs, crabs, fat, tasty crabs with aligue. And there was sarad, and bahong. Lope, to earn some money, had become a proficient sarad diver. One time when I visited Villa from Catbalogan, I saw him selling sarad by the bucket. And surprise! His hair had become blonde, bleached by the interaction of the sea, the sun, the air, and the salt. Years later, when I had gone to Tawi Tawi, the Badjaos there would remind me of Lope. And here in America, the green-eyed, blonde, lily-skinned Caucasians would remind me of Lope and sarad. Indeed, Maqueda Bay and the Bay of Villa were so rich with the bounties of God and Nature. And the Villahanons, young or old did not flinch from hard work.

The rainforest of Villa and Samar were majestic in their splendor. Almost pristine, primeval, untouched. You cast your gaze to the mountains, and the trees would be towering in the distance.

Lope and I went to the jungles of Sibahay one time. There I climbed a fully grown Kamagong tree, a tree whose wood is ebony black, and now so rare. They say the Kamagong wood is harder than steel and is more precious than gold.

And because the “web that sustains life” was perhaps still in perfect balance, in the late afternoons and the early evening, there were thousands and thousands of birds of all shapes, sizes, and colors flying from the hinterlands of Villa and Samar to roost in the islands off Villa such as Puro. One time, Pepito Varela, admittedly the most popular crooner of his generation, the late Jose Negado, and I borrowed a boat. We were on our way to Banquil, to serenade my classmate with whom the musician Jose Negado was “eyeing”. With a full moon lighting the entire Bay of Villa, we rowed towards Banquil. When we reached the sandbars separating Puro and Pacao, we had to get off from the boat and drag it over the sandbar. It was low tide. We rested after our exertions. And then Padé Joe took out his trumpet, blew on it, trying to accompany Pepito who was beginning to croon his Mario Lanza favorite of “Overhead the Moon is Beaming” inspired by the magic of the moonlight. It woke up all the birds resting in the trees of Puro. There was a cacophony of sound. We made the sign of the cross and stopped. Subdued and silent, we continued with our rowing to Banquil and came back to the bongto at 2 o’clock in the morning. I think the Protectors of the Birds punished us for disturbing their rest. Sablay (Padé Joe) did not marry the object of our harana in Banquil. Mana Petra was his destiny.

One summer, Lope and I were assigned by our uncle, Tay Dadoy Ranera, to take care of a corn plantation in Tingara. For several weeks while the corn was growing, Lope and I, as soon as we would wake up in the morning, would put on our buri hats, strap the sundang to our waists, and hike as fast as we could to Tingara from our house in Tayod. We had to be there early to shoo away the birds who would feast on the sweet corn. One time, we arrived very early. While Lope was roasting corn ears, I climbed a nearby tree which was laden with fruits. I was there, leaning on the tree trunk when green and white parrots, picoy and abucay alighted on the tree where I was hidden by the foliage. I think the birds must have noticed me. But they were not bothered by my presence. They just went on eating the fruits of the tree. Those were halcyon days for us Our breakfast was roasted corn. Our lunch was roasted corn and broiled fungus. Sometimes we had roasted wild bird, tikling. And we roamed the hills and the meadows and hobnobbed with the wildlife.

I finished up to Grade Five in the Villareal Elementary School. Our poverty was not a hindrance to “the life of the mind”. The library was bursting with books. I would borrow one and bring it to Lama-awan. There, I would read the colored books by the light of the kerosene lamp.

Children will always play and dream. Dr. Jesus Reyes, “Esong”, and I were seatmates in Grade Two . During recess we would discuss how Superman might go to Korea, fight the enemies of the American and the Filipino soldiers. The late Benedicto “Ubaw” Rapanan was a very good friend too. We would go under the Gabaldon Building and try to catch those insects burrowing on the sand and play with them. As a teacher, we believed the late Tay Antonino Varela was a universal genius. He would teach us social studies, then music, and was in charge of our plots which were planted with pichay. Of course, every Saturday, we would visit our pichay plantation. One time, a classmate, Bernardita Gabrinao who only spoke the language of the Imperialistang Taga-ilog was on her way to their farm nearby. We were teasing Virigilio Latorre to Bernardita. In a fit of anger, Bernardita stepped on the pichay plot of Virgilio. To replant his pichay plantation, Virgilio had to borrow some seedlings from the rest of us without our permission.

The political bad blood among families in Villa was unavoidable even among us youngsters. This was apparent between the Latorres et al and the Gelis et al. I forget now what was the immediate cause. But suddenly, here was the late Potenciano Geli and Virgilio Latorre fighting it out in that Gabaldon building. To even the odds, I think Poten got a piece of bamboo, a gamon. I believe Virgilio’s eyebrow was cut. I remember blood was spurting from his face. Somehow, we must have been able to pacify the protagonists. I think years later when the two had become wiser, they would remember that incident as some sort of a rite of passage to manhood.

My Grade Five schooling was a watershed in my studies. Who was the most brilliant among us? Not Lydia Varela who was Salutatorian later. Not Esong Reyes. Not Virgilio Latorre who became  Valedictorian one year later. Not Poten Geli. Not Cesar Torres. If you ask us to vote, I think we would vote for Aring (Agripina) Varela. (She left Villa when we were young. But I saw Aring once in Tongao, Butuan when I was roaming Pilipinas in the company of “lovely friends”. When Justice Eddie Nachura was just USEC of Education, I was always thinking of asking him to look up the address of Aring. It never happened. But I have always this fond memories of a dear, brilliant, always cheerful classmate.)

As I said, I continued my studies in Catbalogan in Grade Six. In my first year in Samar High in 1953, I was surprised to see Virgilio Latorre in our class. Madé Doding Conise (Gertrudes Conise-Ocaña) was another Villahanon in our class.

We had become orphans. So Lope and I stayed with an uncle in Manila, Tay Beboy Ranera. While in Manila, we sold newspapers, magazines, and comics. We knew the Santa Ana, Paco, San Andres, Pandacan districts, including the shanty areas, like the palm of our hands. After making the rounds, we would take our breakfast – a P0.05 bottle of Sarsaparilla, and I think two pieces of pan de coco worth P0.05. Elsa stayed with our Apoy Nanang (Juana Teves Hermida) in Villa.

After months of trying to survive with dignity in Manila, our fortunes changed. My uncle, Bienvenido Torres was looking for me. Because our father was a soldier in World War II and was listed as missing in action we were finally given some compensation for his services and his life. I went back to Catbalogan. I was still able to enroll in Samar High for the second year, but I was late by two periodical periods. But through the intercession of a kind woman, a science teacher in Samar High, Mrs. Engracia Garcia, I was admitted during the Third Departmental period. She is a mentor whose memory is deeply etched in my heart. Lope in the meantime, enrolled in Quezon City as Freshman. One time he had no money for jeep fare. So he walked from his school to Pandacan where he was staying. A nice two-hour hike.

In the Samar High, Lydia had joined us. With Virgilio, it became a reunion of sorts. In Samar High, I believe we Villahanons were blazing trails also. For instance, there was never any doubt that Virgilio would someday become Governor or Congressman of Samar. He was our student politician par excellence. In fact, when we were just Third Year, he would have beaten Eddie Nachura for President of the Student Council if I was not Eddie’s candidate for Vice President. His charisma and self-confidence was undeniable. Well, God works in mysterious ways. Virgilio was destined for other things such as being a top brass in the regional administrative system but with the risk of his pants being burned. With her brief stay with us in Samar High, the beautiful Lydia was a member of the high school social elite.

I was in Samar High when I had my first real job, supposedly with a wage. It was a government job. Ever the kindest person that he has always been (one time in Tacloban, when Mano Alding Oreo and I were going to Villa to campaign for a congressional candidate, he gave me his last P0.10 centavos), Virgilio gave me three days of the five days he was allotted in the road work by his uncle Mayor Fidencio Latorre — cleaning and maintaining that now famous Bayanihan Road of shrubs and debris that were littering the road. For three days in summer, I would wake up early in the morning. Bring bahaw and fried usu-os as my balon. strap the scabbard of the sundang to my waist, put on a buri hat, walk to a place somewhere beyond Igot and do our work. I forgot now who were my fellow laborers. But I really worked hard because even at that time I believe that it was the people of the Philippines who were paying us for our work. And I did not want to cheat on them.

I waited and waited for my wage of my three days of hard work. I never got it. Not even Virgilio could tell me what happened to my wage or if he got it in his name or someone got the money and pocketed it. This was my first official encounter with my Government.

During summers in high school, I would go to Villa. We had our barkada. We would meet periodically in the imburnals especially during moonlight nights. We would debate, trying to impress each other with our facility of English, serenade the girls, engaged in the occasional irignom and picnics on weekends. Since we were teenagers valiantly trying to impress the girls, we would wear bakya, wooden clogs, all over the town. The Japanese had not yet discovered the manufacturing of those rubber sandals which pollute the environment.

We graduated from high school in 1957. There were no graduation parties and rejoicing. Ramon Magsaysay, the CIA-backed President of the Philippines, had died in a plane crash in Cebu. After our commencement rites, I went to Villa, as an onlooker of the graduation in West Coast Academy. While there, we were looking towards Catbalogan which was burning to the ground right at that very moment. Surprisingly, I was not worried; perhaps because I had few personal belongings in Catbalogan. Sometimes, it is nice to be poor.

I ended in the University of the Philippines. While in Manila, we Villahanon students obviously gravitated to each other — Budick Yu, Vincent and Nonong Figueroa, Ubaw Rapanan, Ising Endrina, Nanding Hilbano, Lydia and Raul Varela, Edith Latoja, the lovely Evelyn Latoja, Liit and Bing Tizon, Gingging Dasmariñas who was our junior, the Seludos (Maruja, Douglas and their siblings) Gironedes “Neding” Gelera, later on Andrew Varela, then Pacit Varela, Felisa Tandinco, Baby Godo Gelera who was not a drunkard like us, Titing Gelera Latorre who was more of a Guiuananon than a Villahanon, and some others, and of course Lope. We became the core of the “Villareal Youth Club of Manila”, VYCM. I was its President. I think we helped in celebrating the fiesta in Manila. But we did have some meetings. I remember quarreling with Caridad Paco over some inconsequential issue.

But our VYCM was nothing compared to the trailblazing achievements of the Villahanon Association of Metro Manila. They have shown the way. I just hope they do not get waylaid by the wayside, groping in the dark recesses of pride and lack of humility.

When I would drop out from the U.P. I would end up in Villa bothering Mikolo “Kalig”.Miguel Presnilla. He was already a teacher at that time. And of course, he was a very popular and sought after teacher. Very romantic, great with his fingers, especially when he was strumming the guitar and using those slender fingers for all activities. God, created him that way. So I would go with him to Bangon, to Plaridel. There I would help in the Pintakasi, repairing a school building among others. I would go with the Ugdok (eel) catchers. One time, Batá Pepe Morabor who motored to Bangon to sell some fish, labas, wanted to take me back to Villa, worried that the tagnok would eat me out. Then from Plaridel, we would walk the mountain trails to San Andres and visit Araceli Abainza, Gloria Latoja, and the other lady teachers in San Andres. From San Andres, we would hike to San Roque. We even went to Bino-ongan and Santa Rosa and gobbled up Libook. We had no money to buy cigarettes. So we roasted tobacco, crumpled the tobacco leaves and rolled them in paper to make a tigol.

I would go back to Manila after a stint of serenading the Villahanon teachers in the barrios and picking up, sagol, choice fishes for kinilaw from the tables of Mana Payang and scribbling all those innumerable “Good Fors” some of which are still probably outstanding. And with the inspiration and prodding of Lydia who had come back from America, I had to finish my studies, especially when Mara and Alexander were already around. But our house in Project 2 in Quezon City and Sampaloc were still veritable half-way houses for Villahanons who had no place to stay in Manila. To finish my studies, there were times when I would not go home once I knew that there was drinking going on in the house. After all Lope and Nanding Hilbano, Nanding who was the best curacha dancer I have ever seen in Manila, were still the drinking buddies of most Villahanons, including the new members of the Lepanto Boys, Mano Ramon Hilvano, the late Padé Prudy Geli who entrusted to me her daughter Dada, and the late Tiboy Latorre, who was so hard to control when he was drunk. Sometimes we would hold him by his hands, and his feet and dump him on a taxi and bring him home.

In the Villareal community in Metro Manila, we would still see each other especially during the celebration of the Feast of the Santa Rosa de Lima.

Compared to other Samarnon groups in Metro Manila who would celebrate their fiestas in elegant surroundings such as the Manila Hotel, where only the elite and those with money could savor the grace and ambiance of a Catholic and Christian tradition devoted to God and His Saints, in contrast, the Villahanons, at least when I was still there, would reach out to everyone. Nobody would be turned away, even those who were definitely gatecrashers and freeloaders. Precisely, as a response to our Catholicism and graciousness, celebrating the Feast of the Santa Rosa in Metro Manila was characterized by popular and grassroots responsibility. From a single hermano or hermana during its early years, now there are so many of them and they all come from all over the world especially from Denmark, whose trailblazer was Rosalia Gerardo. I think she was the first Filipina and Villahanon in Denmark and Europe.

After saying “No” to the beckoning of America in 1983, with a heavy heart, uncertain what the future would bring, I decided to try my luck in this land of milk and honey, the former colonial master of our people, the most powerful and richest country in the world.

With $10 that I borrowed from Fe in my pocket I boarded the Northwest Jumbo Jet to San Francisco in November 1985. Except for ex- DAP Executive Vice President, Dr. Segundo Romero, Jr. I did not tell anyone in the UP that I was leaving. When I told my staff in Ayala that I was leaving in the afternoon on that very day, there was lamentation. Mara and Alexander followed, arriving in the University Town of Berkeley on December 24, 1985.

It was a very humbling and frustrating experience in San Francisco during the early months of our arrival. Only Lydia was working. Despite my qualifications, I could not find a job. We were helped by very kind Calbiganons, Ester Ocenada-Benigno and her cousins, and a Basaynon whose name we have forgotten but whose kindness is forever engraved in our hearts. Finally, when we had the time and the resources, we gravitated to our kind. First to the Calbiganons, because Lydia is half-Calbiganon. Theirs was the first fiesta we attended in America. Then the Catbaloganons, after all I was born in Silanga. Then the Villahanons whose leaders and concentration were in Los Angeles.

But several years would pass before we could go to Los Angeles. As a symbol of our solidarity and unity with all Villahanons all over the world, we never succumbed to the siren song of forming our own Villahanon association in San Francisco, especially if the only purpose was just to celebrate the fiesta. We thought we should organize a pilgrimage to Lima, Peru and devote whatever resources we could spare to helping our hometown, instead of focusing so much on our fiesta celebration here in America.

For us, therefore, there was only one community of Villahanons all over the world. We referred to ourselves as “The Villahanons International” which include Esdras, Inday, and Ponso Romano in Northern California, Ruben Gerardo and other Villahanons in Norway, Quirino Ragub and his beloved Tunding who has a penchant for burning pants of his beloved cousin, Nora Colles-Chawla, Ada Quijano-Reyes, Soledad Agote in Canada, Nora and other Royandoyans, the Hilvanos (the late Godfather of the Villahanons, Mano Sotero Hilvano, sons Victor and wife, Doctor Mansueta and Angelito), Gery Hilvano in Las Vegas, and their cousins, who spell their names differently, the Hilbanos, in Southern California and Las Vegas, (Mano Joe, Belen), Mana Bangbang and Ate Grace Arcallana, the Ricaldes (Mana Oswalda and the late Fr. Nick), the admirable couple, Dina Seludo and Frank Bunuan, Clarito and Mana Mila Seludo, Mana Juling Gabompa who has a lovely house on top of a hill in Northern California, the Seludos-Tabungars, Caridad Paco, Mana Cordying Daluraya, Suki, Tening, and Zenaida Ygat in California, the Varelas in the Midwest, Lotlot Fallorina, Mana Nina Latorre-Ras and lovely daughter, Bingbing, Dave Yu, the finance whizz who waited 8 hours to be picked up at the San Francisco Airport, Aida Geli, Rufino and Jimmy Obregon, Ralph Brillante who has severed his relationship with Villahanons in California, Mana Lily Fabilane and brother, Isidro, and Mana Ruthie Dougherty whom we visited regular and now we do not see anymore, Gina Cabueños and Dennis Blanco, Joanna Aboga and her gracious American husband, Bob Foster, our ever reliable, classmate Minda Geli, Godofredo “Baby” Gelera, one of the pioneer Villahanons in California, Padre Pepe Garcia in Canada, and the family of Judith Presnilla in Sacramento, and many others more. There are now so many of us, Villahanons in Diaspora, we need a huge database. For those I cannot remember, please forgive me. The next Villahanon historians will rectify our lapses.

In America, we tried to combine our religious piety with civic works for our hometown, little things for our church, the schools (books and scholars for the Holy Name Academy), innovative  arrangements such as “The Paolo Lean Torres Pimentel Partners in Learning”, a collaboration with the Cambaguio and the Central Elementary Schools), the community, such as the Stairway to Heaven of The Clan led by Vincent Figueroa, supporting the publication of the pioneering “Budyong Han Villa”, which was staffed by Villahanon writers and poets and printed by using a mimeograph machine, and organizing the Omawas Foundation which unhappily resulted in the unnecessary and tragic death of two beloved community leaders, Mano Joe and Mana Nitnit Dalwatan and Elma Figueroa’s suffering. But for the courage and bravery of Mila Figueroa, one of the most respected leaders of our community who chose to stay in Villa to serve our people, instead of staying in America as a highly paid Florence Nigtingale, many more would have lost their lives. All for nothing. We need to honor Mano Joe and Mana Nitnit, mga Baraan nga Susgaran han Bongto.

We remember with fondness the late Epifanio Nuñez. Together with his wife, Flor Marasigan, they mobilized the Villahanons in California on helping our church. We have that aborted Kamorayaw Cemetery Project of the Villahanons International, of course. The souls of the dead Villahanons are wailing in the nether world because of a promise that remains unfulfilled. But the dream is there. Kun diri kita, iton sunod nga henerasyon. Kun diri yana, iton sunod nga panahon.

There were profound changes among Villahanons too. For once a Villahanon Parish Priest, Fr. Jun Cinco, could hobnob with his flock in America, not just in Villa and Metro Manila. Through the very illustrious and eminent Archbishop Jose Palma, Villahanon priests could visit us in San Francisco and other parts of America.

As fate would have it, a Villahanon, Marivel Sacendoncillo, could exercise some authority and influence to send local government executives, such as Mayor Renato “Boy” Latorre, (and sister Calbiga Mayor, Luzviminda “Bebot” Latorre) to train in Canada. Before this, our mayors could only travel to Lamingao, to Catbaloganon, to Tacloban and to Manila on official business with some relaxation in some night spots. After all, it was so tiring and tedious following up official business in the bureaucratic bowels of the Philippine Administrative System, especially if one has a hangover.

The singular importance of our democratic social structure and its concomitant egalitarianism — we do not distinguish ourselves from each other whether tuminongnong or a timawa or whether Manila-born or fresh from San Francisco, New York, Canada, or Norway or from Inasudlan, San Andres or Himyangan — separates us from other groups. There is also that oneness with everyone which somehow culminates in the hermanidad and celebration of the fiesta in Metro Manila where one is deemed not to have fully complied with the unwritten initiation of being a Villahanon if one has not yet become a sponsor of the Santa Rosa fiesta. Finally, there is our characteristic as thinkers, visionaries, and dreamers. Sometimes, like the eloquent Fr. Rudy Romano or the Calubids, and others, we pay with our lives. All these and other factors provide us with a dynamic community of Villahahons linked to each other all over the world.

With the advent of the Internet, many diasporic Villahanons have become closer to each other. We communicate in the World Wide Web with a flick of a “computer mouse”. Aside from long distance calls, there is cell phone texting, Yahoo Messenger, Web Cameras, and the most popular of all, electronic mail. Our brilliant municipal consultant and local government planner, Armando “Boy” Ridao transmits huge computer files from the municipio to me in California, files which contain the comprehensive development plan of the town under the leadership of Mayor Reynato “Boy” Latorre and his fellow municipal officials. I chat on real time with Jim Gabree, the Amerian husband of Marjorie Hilvano in Guintarcan, through a computer which is connected to the Internet through “satellite broadband”which does not need land-based telephone connections. I used to chat with my godchild, Jeanette Presnilla, in Tacloban while I was in San Francisco. Indeed, our familiarity with the Internet makes us tower above many other groups all over the Philippines. As of last count, for instance, we have three websites and electronic discussion groups.

The foregoing, together with other factors, combined to develop a synergy, a confluence of events and circumstances, making us a model all over the Philippines and the Third World. When we took on this mind-boggling collaborative project to repair and cement this 8-km public road through Tiklos or Bayanihan, a project that has never been done voluntarily in the history of the Philippines, a project that involves massive use of the Internet, a project where even our school children are helping, we showed the world that poor as we are, we can hold our heads high with dignity. The corrupt and the nincompoops do not dangle us by their dirty little fingers anymore.

Of course, we Villahanons are not angels. I once stumbled on Ruben Gerardo’s “Villahanon Forum”, a discussion medium in the Internet. I could not believe at the lack of principles, the cowardice, the unkindness, and the quality of the exchanges. I could not discern any graciousness and humility. People would just fling accusations left and right without any evidence. They hide under aliases. It is disheartening to realize that the kind and noble intentions of Ruben’s Villahanon Forum has been hijacked and mutilated by unprincipled individuals. It is practically reeking with unimaginable evil.

We will self-destruct if we don’t wake up from our psychosis. Hurling accusations while hiding under aliases and fictitious names are symptomatic of a sick society, a society of political, cultural, and civic misfits. We have to wrench ourselves from the old ways of doing things. We cannot continue to be hating each other without letup. We will explode with our unflinching hatred at our fellow Villahanons.

It is critical that we transcend our myopic and tongao-like perceptions of our roles in our municipality, in how we confront the challenges facing Villa, the entire Philippine society, and the world. Our almost deliberate inability to do this is what makes unlovable.

Even then, we continue with our mantra: “We love Villa! We hate Villa! We love Villa….” And if we are believers in the Peruvian Saint, Santa Rosa de Lima, and all the other saints whose sainthoods are being celebrated by all Villahanons in our 38 barangays and by their associations in Metro Manila, there is no doubt that love will triumph, that good will vanquish evil and hatred.

I end this labor of love with some lines from the Ecclesiastes:

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak,

A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.”

And from Desiderata:

“Do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.

Many fears are borne of fatigue and loneliness.

With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.”

 

Editor’s Note: When I requested Mano Cesar to contribute an article, I was thinking that busy as he is, he would only come out with a one-page or two-page piece that he can finish in one setting. When he called me and asked how long his article might be, I told him that it should be 5 to 6 pages. I was wondering what was taking him so long. It turned out that he has decided to write about the Villahanons covering a period of more than half a century. This piece is far from being a definitive, authoritative, historical piece. If ever, this simply attempts to preserve for the future generations some memorable events among Villahanons in our hometown, in Metro Manila, and in America where he is based now since 1985. It shows the way. We should not construe this as his story. Rather, this is the story of our town and how he lived there. He has decided to do this, so that our past is not forgotten, so that our children and their children’s children will know. He correctly thinks that if he will not do this, nobody else will. And if he will not do this now, this will never be done at all.

 The author is a product of our public school system. An alumnus of the Samar High School where he graduated with honors and was a student leader, he is a recipient of the Outstanding Centennial Alumnus Award in 2004. He has three degrees from the U.P. one with honors which automatically made him a lifetime member of the International Social Science Honor Society of Pi Gamma Mu. In the U.P., he has the distinction of being the only undergraduate to be appointed Assistant to the Vice President for Development and Public Affairs of the U.P. System. He was an Assistant Professor of the Department of Political Science while being Senior Consultant of the think tank Development Academy of the Philippines. During the Centennial Celebration of the U.P. National College of Public Administration and Governance, he was nominated by now U.P. Vice President for Planning and Finance, Dr. Maria Concepcion Parrocco-Alfiler who was then Dean of the College, as Outstanding Public Administration Alumnus. He has created the Internet group, UP-Alumni-In-Cyberspace@yahoogroups.com. He is still working as a senior analyst of the State of California where he was given the Sustained Superior Performance Award in 1997, the only Filipino to be given that award that year. He is active in the Filipino-American community in Northern California – Founder of the Samar High-Samar National School Alumni Association of America, Past President of the San Francisco-based Samareños of California, Board Member, Acting President and Vice-President of the

Filipino American Council of San Francisco, Chairman of the Pamana ng Lahing Pilipino Foundation, Board Member of the UP Alumni Association of San Francisco. He is an original convenor of the innovative International Discussion Group Filam-Forum@yahoogroups.com who meet every now and then in San Francisco. He is a columnist of the “Filipino Insider” which is also published online. Together with Ruben Gerardo, he moderates the Internet discussion group, GugmaHanSamar@yahoogroups.com and is the Chief Editor and contributor of the online publication of Gugma Han Samar Cyberspace Movement.

 He is married to the beauteous Lydia Froilan Varela with whom he has two children, Maria “Mara” Teresita Varela Torres-Pimentel and Alexander “Doydoy” Varela Torres.

Mara is married to the author and former San Francisco Chronicle staff writer and ABS-CBN anchorman, Benjamin Pimentel, with whom they have two boys, 8-year old

Paolo Lean Torres Pimentel and 2-year old Anton Diego Torres Pimentel. Together with thousands of Filipino expatriates around the world, especially in the Middle East, he is currently involved in helping organize a worldwide, economic, social, and political movement that will focus on a more effective participation in Philippine development of the more than 8 million Filipinos in Diaspora. This piece is dedicated to the future generations of Villahanons.